Film Review: BOUNDARIES (USA/Canada 2017) ***1/2

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Boundaries Poster

Laura and her son Henry are forced to drive her estranged, pot-dealing, carefree father Jack across country after being kicked out of a nursing home.


Shana Feste


Shana Feste


BOUNDARIES is a film about breaking boundaries, not creating or keeping them.  When the film starts, Laura (Vera Farmiga) talks to her therapist about the boundary she had created with her estranged father, Jack (Christopher Plummer).  Jack has telephoned but Laura has refused to pick up.  But she eventually makes contact with him.

BOUNDARIES is a feature by writer/director Shana Feste who has made 5 or so features including THE GREATEST and COUNTRY SONG.  BOUNDARIES caters to the commercial moviegoer, hitting all the right buttons at the correct times  For the more critical filmgoer, critics included, all that transpires might be all too much.  BOUNDARIES has so far received very mixed reviews.  Hate it or love it!

Laura (Farmiga) is a single mother who lives with her son Henry (Lewis MacDougall) and a slew of stray animals she’s rescued.  When Henry is expelled from school for drawing the principal nude and her estranged father Jack (Plummer) is booted from his senior home, Laura makes a deal.  She agrees to drive Jack from Seattle to LA, where her sister (Kristen Schaal) 

has reluctantly agreed to take him in.  In return, Jack promises to pay for Henry to attend a private school, where his creativity can be nourished.

Expect lots of theatrics that will involve lots of tears and laughter.

So, Laura, Jack, Henry and a few of the furry strays head off, with Jack insisting they stop along the way to visit a Buddhist camp, a couple of old pals (Christopher Lloyd et al.) and even Laura’s feckless ex-husband (Bobby Cannavale).  Little does Laura know that Jack is selling weed from the $200,000 stash in his trunk, having a last bit of fun before the drug becomes legal.  Still oozing charisma at age 85, Jack has also cajoled Henry into helping him.

Despite its predictable Hollywood happy ending, Feste takes her audience for a ride with some good dialogue and good performances from her actors.

Christopher Plummer is quite hilarious.

Vera Farmiga is also quite hilarious

Teen actor Lewis MacDougall not only hilarious but dramatic, emotional and winning,

Of the supporting cast. Peter Fonda does what is expected as the film deals with weed.  But it is Bobby Cannavale steals the show as Laura’s ex, a real a-hole.  The films most dramatic and powerful scene involves him and Farminga, who also proves her acting mettle.

Feste’s script could be improved on the way it manipulates audiences.  But to her credit this manipulative script contains choice lines like:

“I’m so fucked up, I can’t even tell my therapist how fucked up I am.”

“I’m desperate.  Don’t tell me things are going to get better.”

“My family is awful, But they cannot help it.”

The film can also be described as an edgy family road movie.  The film includes an appropriate road movie soundtrack, pleasant to listen to especially on the road.

Director Feste admits that the film is an unabashedly autobiographical portrait of her own charming grifter dad, who was in and out of her life during her early childhood and then 

moved in with her when he became ill.  Her father (who recently passed away) has a cameo in the film as the construction guy who cops weed from Jack.


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Film Review: A MONSTER CALLS (USA/Spain 2016) ****

a_monster_calls_movie_poster.jpgDirected by J.A. Bayona

Starring: J.A. Bayona

Writers: Patrick Ness (screenplay), Patrick Ness (based upon the novel written by)

Stars: Sigourney Weaver, Felicity Jones, Lewis MacDougall

Review by Gilbert Seah

Based on the acclaimed novel by Patrick Ness who also wore the script and served as producer of the film, A MONSTER CALLS must have been a love project from the start and it looks so. A dark, occasionally humorous and exciting film, A MONSTER CALLS reminds one of the best of the horror fantasy films – Guillermo Del Toro’s PAN’S LABYRINTH and Nicholas Roeg’s THE WITCHES.

The protagonist of the story is young Conor O’Malley – who we are told by voiceover is too young to be a man and too old to be a boy, (a fresh performance by Lewis MacDougall). Conor has been dealt some of life’s most devastating blows. His mother (Felicity Jones) has terminal cancer, his father (Toby Kebbell) is not part of his life and his grandmother (Sigourney Weaver) offers no consolation. To top it all, he is bullied at school. Conor has nowhere to turn, until he receives a nighttime visit from an enormous, tree-shaped monster (voiced by Liam Neeson). The monster is to help him, but not in a regular way.

The monster declares that it will tell Conor three stories and that when it has finished recounting the tales, Conor must reciprocate with a story of his own. All of the monster’s stories offer a lesson in the complexity of human nature (e.g. the murderous king lives happily ever after and loved by his subjects) and the consequences of the actions — while each of the monster’s visits leaves destruction in its wake. When the time comes for Conor to tell his story, he must confront difficult truths that can no longer be ignored.

The stories told by the monster unfolds on the screen with special effects animation. But the very best effect is very basic – appearing in the boy’s room where three hanging cut out painted pieces of cardboard dangle coming together to form the face of a monster. But it is not only the animation that dazzles (though it does) but the stories themselves. Each is as dark as dark can be and all have an unexpected twist where expectations are thrown to the wind. These stories are so amazing that they almost eclipse the main plot. The main question in every viewer’s mind is how the stories relate to the boy’s real life.

But director Baoyna’s film teases all the way. Where and when is the film set? As the film has a vintage look, one expects a period setting, but then Conor owns a cell phone. One assumes a British setting from the looks of the houses and buildings. This becomes clear as the school is clearly British but still one is never certain which city the film is set. The only clue is the pier and the amusement park nearby. So it could be Brighton but not Blackpool for the lack of the working class accents. Another puzzle occurs at the end of the film when Conor looks at the drawings of a book, with the author’s name Lizzie Caplan in front? Who is this Lizzie?

A MONSTER CALLS proves that a good story is more important than just a movie which dazzles the eye. A MONSTER CALLS has the bonus that it does both. And with the young boy as the protagonist, every adult can sit back and pretend to be young once more, facing and conquering the monsters in life.



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